Is Conflict Enjoyable?
Recently I came across an advertisement for conflict management and mediation training which described the training as entertaining and funny and the trainer described conflict as “enjoyable”.
My experience when mediating to resolve a conflict is that most participants who are steeped in conflict are not having fun! More likely they feel traumatised by overwhelming feelings of anxiety, hurt, anger and grief.
Such was the case in the restorative mediation I conducted this week between 2 medical clinicians. This mediation was one of the longest one’s I’ve done so far, with the individual sessions on Day 1 taking 7 hours (4 + 3 hours) and the combined process on Day 2 taking 4 hours.
The conflict was due to a protracted inter-personal conflict. The participants had been through a previous unsuccessful mediation by a different mediator and as a result, one of the participants was highly anxious and emotional and terrified to be in the same room with the other participant. The process was not superficial or formulaic. It involved traversing a complex and winding road using intuition and therapeutic skill by:
• being comfortable in myself for the participants to express a range of heightened emotions – through waves of trauma, anger, hurt, confusion, grief and pain;
• being intently present and closely tracking every detail of their different stories – every turn, nuance, incident, assumption and interpretation;
• slowly earning their trust and respect (and tacit permission) to work more interactively with them by compassionately inquiring into their perspectives and assumptions and what’s getting in the way of their re-connection to the other person; and
• gaining their trust that they would both feel 100% safe throughout the combined process, or I will stop the process.
During restorative mediations, the combined session on Day 2 often results in feelings of relief, lightness and even laughter. But this can only happen after a shift through painful disconnection.
Although humour and fun makes training sessions more enjoyable, when training on conflict management and mediation it is also important to convey:
• that trauma ought not to be trivialised as conflict is not necessarily fun or enjoyable for those stuck in it;
• the importance of the mediator’s ability to be grounded amidst strong emotions. As Michelle Phaneuf so aptly put it in her article ‘Learning from Conflict’ – to be able to ‘stay in the messy’; and
• that effectively resolving conflict requires an ability to work fluidly and intuitively with people. A formulaic approach is simplistic as every conflict is different, as are the different personalities and levels of emotionality of participants.